Help my son break the mold!
June 13, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Finding appropriate camp for 8 year old know-it-all.

I was trying to locate a TED video I have seen about a man who runs a camp (I believe in MN) where young boys are encouraged to build character through the use of things such as power tools.

Then, I realized I would ask the hive mind for any other suggestions on ways to help the development of my eight year old son.

In a nutshell:

He is too smart for his own good, we think of him as an adult locked inside a childs body. His IQ and such are all through the roof, but to me none of that really matters because he is having real difficulties socially.

He tends to isolate from kids his age because he tries to be the boss of them. Other kids look up to him for his knowledge, but when he starts bossing them around, they retreat. He is extremely well mannered and respects/adores/listens to all teachers/instructors/adults

He is not very physical and has lagged behind in motor skills and coordination. He is apt to put fear first and has a hard time committing to new ideas/places/environments but usually once he gets into something he does very well and his growth is noticeable.

He is very sensitive and his emotions ride high in him. He needs a lot of support and guidance in new situations. I find that once he breaks through the barrier of his mind, once he lets go of his inhibitions, he is just like many other eight year olds, fun, energizing and filled with reckless abandon.

I saw a TED video a few years ago about a man who started a camp in the US where kids as young as 6 or 7 would go and do things like chop wood, use power tools and other "character building" exercises.

I imagine there are many similar places that I might look into for my son. I am hoping to start my search here.
posted by silsurf to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you looking for something in the Los Angeles area? Or anywhere?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:45 AM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: I am actually looking for something anywhere, part of me feels like it would be great to go someplace more remote. In that case I might have to find a place that embraces the parent being at the location to some extent, it would be my sons first time overnight in a new environment.

posted by silsurf at 8:54 AM on June 13, 2010

Well, I'm in Cambridge, and a couple of friends of mine run a camp called "Camp Kaleidoscope". I can't recommend them more highly - I haven't seen their camp in person, but I'm sure it's awesome. They're very interesting fellows with an unorthodox approach to children, and I'm sure they would be excited to help your guy come out of his shell.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:59 AM on June 13, 2010

You might be thinking of The Tinkering School - it was featured in a Ted Talk a while back. Looks like they're full for the summer but they might have a standby list or some recommendations for you.
posted by macfly at 9:12 AM on June 13, 2010

Your description of your son could have fit me exactly at that age. Given my difficulties getting along with other kids, the three weeks I spent away at summer camp at 9 or so were some of the most miserable of my childhood. I am not being hyperbolic. I think it reinforced my idea that other kids didn't like me much more than it was a growing experience.

I also went to a whole bunch of different day camps and liked them just fine. The ones where I got to make Lego robots, program computers, and demonstrate how much smarter I was than my astonished counselors were probably the most fun for me, but I'm sure they did nothing for my social development. I went to the Camp Doublecreek day camp several years in a row and I would be happy to send brainy kids I love to a camp with similar non-brainy activities.
posted by grouse at 9:17 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am confused, because you are describing a camp which focuses on what seem to be the opposite of your sons interests. What do you want camp to accomplish for him?
posted by SLC Mom at 9:20 AM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

SLC Mom, I think he is saying that when his child is in a familiar setting within the parameters of his interests, he is bossy. The child is afraid to be outside his comfort zone, so he has not had opportunities to learn how to be a child among children. He either chooses to be in a superior position (where other children look up to him for advice, and where he is bossy) or he chooses to not participate because he is afraid. The poster is looking for a place in which the child can learn to be comfortable in new situations, and in situations in which he is not expert. Basically, so the child can learn to be truly confident.
posted by Houstonian at 9:34 AM on June 13, 2010

Destination Science? I don't know that it fits your parameters perfectly, but maybe it's worth a look? In my experience, it's tough trying to find summer camps this time of year. They're mostly full because registration takes places weeks or months ago.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:49 AM on June 13, 2010

I saw an advert here in Toronto for the Second City Summer Camp. They have 1 and 2 week courses from 9am to 4pm every day. I think a lot of improv comedians can identify with kids who feel like outsiders.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:27 AM on June 13, 2010

This program, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, was the agent in creating the best experiences of my childhood. Being put in a position where I was no longer the smartest kid around really helped me with my perspective, and I enjoyed being around kids who were kind of like me. There is a lot of structure in these programs, and they're incredibly fun while helping your child even more. Although I do not work for and am not associated with these people in any way besides in my past having participated in these summer programs, I praise them every chance I get. Looking at dates, you may be too late for this summer's program, but please keep it in mind for next year. I went for 3 different years and loved it each time, though my times were all sleepaway, not day camps.
posted by Night_owl at 10:34 AM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've heard good things about Destination Imagination.
posted by rhizome at 11:31 AM on June 13, 2010

Both of my kids did the Johns Hopkins program mentioned by Night-owl when they were 7th grade and above. If you have a child who thinks that spending 6 hours a day learning game theory or doing creative writing is fun, this is a great place for them.

However, for a socially awkward kid of that age, I was suggest a day program rather than on overnight camp. (I have bad memories of trying to fall asleep in a cabin full of other kids, no adults, much less my own family around - I was not ready to be gone from home for 7 days straight.)

Destination Imagination and Odyssey of the Mind are both creativity competitions with the unique requirement that every idea and every thing that goes into the final solution has to be done by the kids themselves - forcing the coaches to keep their mouth shut (they do provide much needed structure but they have no part in the actual work - unlike almost any other child experience.) However, it is usually run as an after-school program, not a summer camp. Again, both of my kids participated for a total of five times - I think it builds teamwork and resourcefulness as well as self-confidence in way that is far more effective than any other performance or competition that they could be doing at that age.
posted by metahawk at 11:47 AM on June 13, 2010

Space Camp! I was your child. I'm not really sure if they have programs for kids that young, but I went when i was 12 or 13. It was amazing and I absorbed an absurd amount of space program minutiae. We got to do a several hourSpace Shuttle mission simulation. I was the payload specialist and got to do an EVA complete with flying around in an MMU (manned maneuvering unit) mounted on a roller thing. The older kids got to do a 48 hour mission in which the EVAs were performed in the neutral buoyancy tank.

I have a hard time imagining a smart kid who doesn't want to go to space. I wonder if they have adult space camp...
posted by cmoj at 11:47 AM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the responses. Interestedly enough, he is currently enrolled in the John Hopkins program and we shall see how that goes this summer.

I am thinking about the future and also looking to elicit a general response to my situation.

Thank you Houstonian for clarifying the situation, you nailed it.

My experience is that if I take my son out of his comfort zone (up to a point) he really gets a lot out of it, a lot of confidence and I see rapid growth in areas that have troubled him. When I see him stay firmly rooted in his comfort zone, I know he enjoys it, but I am not as enthusiastic about the growth.

I am also a parent that believes that all of these things work themselves out as long as the parents are loving, caring and listen to what is going on with their children. In this area, I know he is getting excellent attention.

My personal past was that I was in a household that had to working parents, divorced and I pretty much was responsible for myself I got into a LOT of trouble as a child and one of the most important developmental areas was the seven years I spent at Summer Camp.

People are always shocked today to hear, but in 1967 I was shipped off to the Berkshires for 8 weeks straight with only one visiting day. Like I said I went for 1seven years straight all of my childhood highs are from this experience.

I know that my son with have his own experience and I am not trying to replicate my past onto him, just looking for guidance and thoughtfulness from the every wonderful MeFi'ers
posted by silsurf at 12:54 PM on June 13, 2010

This is only a little related, but just to be sure, I'm gonna link to this article about how to praise your kids. Just 'cause I have found myself being the stereotypical ultra-smart person who was afraid to try things I wasn't immediately good at. This New York mag feature blew my mind and completely changed how I work with kids, for the better.

That being said, it might be a good idea to find a day camp that's the really kind of "normal" camp experience while he's young. Let him find his way socially among some kids his age, and give him the chance to talk it out with you after a day there. Then later, maybe middle-schoolish, is probably a nice time for the kind of camp for gifted kids. He'll learn that he's weird in a really normal way. Hard to explain but marvelous to learn. There are plenty of other people like him. He's totally wonderful and smart and can still talk to anyone, given the chance to learn how to do it.
posted by lauranesson at 1:51 PM on June 13, 2010

I would strongly recommend Farm and Wilderness. It's extremely rustic but also quite structured, and did a lot for me as a smart-aleck, know-it-all, smart kid. It's a hippie Quaker Camp* in the middle of the Vermont woods, with working organic farms.

There are several different camps, but the basic idea is to get kids out in nature, working on the farms (I was responsible for taking care of a lamb the summer I was 10 and learned how to pluck a chicken the same summer!) and hiking overnight in the Green Mountains. There are also traditional camp activities like crafts, talent shows and swimming in the lake. It was so great because it got me out of my comfort zone and yet the people who run the camp really care about the kids and there's a lot of structure and tradition, so kids don't feel lost.

* There is a religious aspect to the camp, but since it's Quaker, it's not too conspicuous. There's a morning meeting every day, where everyone sits in quiet contemplation, but there's no preaching and definitely no God talk. I would be surprised if more than 10% of the campers are Quakers. It also has a pretty strong activist bent - some of the traditional "camp songs" are old labor and civil rights movement songs and we would have at least one activist speaker per session, on issues like the civil war in El Salvador and AIDS (I went in the 80s). So if either of those things are a problem for you, it might not be the best camp for you guys.
posted by lunasol at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2010

Theater camp or horse back riding camp. My mother sent my sister to both as a way to build character, get her to be more independent, and get her out of herself. For some reason, I never got sent to camp. My mother, a child psychologist, picked these types of camps because of the physical nature and need for the children to do things somewhat "dangerous," both physically and mentally.
posted by fifilaru at 2:20 PM on June 13, 2010

As a child my mom sent me to Rawhide Ranch. I also worked there as a counselor. Its a ranch camp in Bonsall, CA, which is near San Diego. There are lots of physical activities like animal care, horseback riding, archery, etc., but they also teach classes like animal science. There are tests at the end which gain campers higher ranking, then they are able to do more advanced classes. It seems like it would be a good mix of things your child likes, and things you would like your child to do.

It is sleep away, and children can stay one week, or for the whole summer.

Either way, I would choose a camp setting for your child in which they can excel, but in a genre they are unfamiliar with. That way they can't be a know-it-all right away but they will enjoy the experience as a whole.
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome at 3:26 PM on June 13, 2010

Seconding Farm & Wilderness, specifically Timberlake.
posted by misterbrandt at 7:55 PM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to all, many great ideas to ponder.

posted by silsurf at 9:46 PM on June 13, 2010

If you're really there, Minnesota has tons of cool summer camps. I was talking to my mom last week, a grandma of eleven kids, and she was listing all the neat things available out there. What about the Concordia Language Villages? Everyone is pretty much at sea learning the language. The summer camps out at Fort Snelling look really great, too (so look for something similar run by your state's history museum if you're from Somewhere Else).

As a kid in St. Paul I went to the Twin Cities Institute for Talented Youth three times, some thing at the U of MN the summer before Senior year of H.S. (where we took college courses for credit), Boy Scout camp two or three times, and -- as a wee lad -- French camp. In a few years he could go to Lake Trails ( up at Lake of the Woods. I went only one time (alas! I loved it!), and it added a woodsy bent to my bookishness.

I was also kind of bossy once I got my feet under me, so it was useful to do things that I wasn't already great at -- especially physical stuff. As a result, a couple of one-week day camps that the YMCA ran (drawing from nature, etc.) were good because we all had to go swimming at the lake in the afternoon. :7) At the time I bridled, but I'm sure it was better for me than sitting inside reading all day.

(I didn't make it into that Johns Hopkins thing when I was a kid, but I found other ways to pass the time!)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:03 AM on June 14, 2010

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